While hobbies can range from pick-up soccer to coin collecting or rocketry to knitting, there aren’t many that result in a cold glass of beer at the end. As Chicago’s local brewery scene rapidly increases with every new craft beer added to the local store shelf, brewing beer has become a fairly common hobby throughout the city.
Vincent Cicchirillo, a DePaul assistant professor of advertising in the College of Communication, is one of the many hobbyists who’ve dabbled in the art of home brewing, one that he says is much more complex and meticulous than one might think.
“When I was in graduate school I really got into the craft beer scene and started trying all different kinds of beer and styles,” Cicchirillo said. “My wife eventually got me a gift card for a home brewing place and suggested that I give it a try. I fell in love with the process and began my journey into home brewing.”
While Cicchirillo has a few years of experience on his home brewing resume, he would consider himself more of a hobbyist in the practice, stating that professionally home brewing not only takes time but money as well for every new piece of equipment.
“While I love the process of home brewing and the aromas it produces, I am purely a hobbyist,” Cicchirillo said. “I’ve been home brewing now for about four to five years and still have not produced a beer I would consider perfect. To take it further I would need a lot more equipment and time.”
For Jerry Lucas, a Chicago resident and long-time craft beer enthusiast, his window into home brewing was quite similar to that of Cicchirillo’s.
“I used to stop by at Vice District, that taproom down on Michigan Ave, and I’d try these craft beers and they were just phenomenal. And I started talking to these guys that run it, and they’re telling me about how this all started by them buying their own home brewery kit and now they own this microbrewery,” Lucas said. “I’ve only been doing this for about a year or so now, so I’m quite poor at producing decent beer, but it’s fun. You get better at it and the beer starts tasting a little less like dirt.”
While many have become fascinated in the art of home brewing, the entire process is certainly quite complicated and detailed-oriented in keeping your beer clean. Both Lucas and Cicchirillo agreed that one of the hardest aspects of producing your own beer is the fact that your brewery can become contaminated easily.
“Probably one of the biggest things about home brewing is cleaning and sanitizing everything that comes into contact with your beer. You really have to be careful. The smallest thing can lead to contaminated beer,” Cicchirillo said. “I think the reason it’s such a detail oriented process is to make sure that nothing goes wrong. Trust me I would love to throw a whole bunch of hops and malt into a kettle, boil it and then bottle it, but you need your beer to cool for the yeast to ferment properly.”
Lucas, a self-proclaimed amateur of the practice, said the entire cleaning and waiting aspect is the part where people begin to lose interest in making their own beer.
“I’ve got friends that I tried convincing to start this with me, I thought it would be really cool to compare beers with each other and see where we’re are,” Lucas said. “Making your beer is a lot different than making your own coffee and tea and while that may seem easy to differentiate, people seem to think you can brew something in a day when the process is a lot longer than that.”
The process of the art may take time, and when it’s done right but it certainly pays off in the end. To many of those that brew their own craft beers, the passion lies beyond making the product but tasting other people’s as well.
While their favorite drink is perhaps unknown to most people’s beer vocabulary, it’s always a place for those new to craft beer to start getting into the scene.
“My favorite beer of all time has to be Southern Tier Pumking. It’s a pumpkin ale, it’s just beautifully well-crafted and well balanced,” Cicchirillo said. “It’s like pumpkin pie in a bottle!”
For DePaul alumnus Ryan Yester, an avid lover of Chicago’s craft beer scene, his attempt at brewing his own beer was short-lived due to the tediousness and slow-moving process.
“Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of buddies that brew their own beer and they’re some of the most passionate guys doing it. I’ve tried it multiple times and it’s something that if you want to do right, you have to put some time into it to practice,” Yester said. “That’s something I was never able to do though. It’s the difference between playing golf and watching it on TV, one’s a lot more enjoyable than the other.”
Though Yester has never been able to get into the home brewing hobby, his appreciation for the practice has always been prominent as his father began brewing his own beer just a few years ago.
“It’s funny, my dad was never a big beer or alcohol guy – I mean he’d drink now and then – but it didn’t matter if it was a two dollar Coors Light or some fancy IPA (India Pale Ale). And then after retirement, he got into making his own craft beer,” Yester said. “My buddies have visited him down in McHenry just to hangout and brew some beer together. They’re all part of this home brewery club, which is actually really awesome cause you see how much he enjoys all of this.”
While creating your craft beeras a hobby may be for some more than others, the influence of Chicago’s growing craft beer scene is undeniable.
“It’s great to see how much this city has fallen in love with craft beer and making their own styles of beer,” Lucas said. “There’s a real beauty in creating something of your own. Whether you think your beer is the finest on the planet or you think it tastes like dirt, it’s a process that’s not only fun and enjoyable but one that you can be proud of routinely as you go on.”